Race will not hinder the election of a minority President

~by: Arthur Loke~

I refer to the article ‘Let electoral college choose the President’, dated 3rd Sep 2011, published in The Straits Times , and jointly crafted by Mr Ho Kwon-Ping and Mr Janadas Devan (see HERE)

The writers commented in that article that under the present system, a person from the minority races is most unlikely to be elected. Therefore, they proposed changes to the system, where an electoral college would elect the President; which is the very opposite of the ‘one-man-one-vote’ system we have today for electing our President.

If the Government is still working on racial paradigms and stereotypes of the 1960’s to assess a person’s “reliability” for his or her appointment as a high official, particularly in the military, our minorities will continue to feel set apart and disadvantaged.  Whatever the sop you offer them, including the Presidency through a electoral college selection, will not dispel the rankle of not being fully trusted.

We are 46 years into Independence, and it is time to look at the realpolitik of race in this country. The minority groups have accepted the Government’s reasons that realpolitik rather than racial prejudice is behind the reliability test with regard to certain appointments. But we cannot go on not fully trusting any minority group while foreigners are allowed into this country in large numbers to be permanent residents and citizens.

Realpolitik too has changed since the 1960’s, as it must, with Indonesia and Malaysia being quite friendly to us now.  Our water problem is almost solved and our military is considered superior to those of our neighbours.

It is time to deliver ourselves from some of these race hang-ups now that we have had half a century to build a nation and to foster a national identity. While we should not take our eyes off the terrorists who may come from all ethnic groups, there is no reason to hold back any individual from a minority group in his natural ascent.

I believe that if the Government is bold enough to appoint a few minority persons to jobs previously considered too sensitive to be allotted to them our country will have more patriots amongst our fellow citizens who are from minority races, ensuring Singapore a even more secure future.

We can then put aside once and for all this race consciousness in key jobs distribution. There is no downside to this move since renegade generals can be arrested and tried in the military courts and bad Prime Ministers can be voted out.

The proposal for a electoral college for the President to be appointed as suggested by Mr Ho and Mr Devan is not a good idea. It is a retrogressive step as it robs the Singaporean his vote and to place this power he now has in the hands of another group of persons to exercise this invaluable right.

Singaporeans understand and enjoy exercising their democratic rights as the General Elections and the Presidential Elections have shown, and should never be underestimated for their political shrewdness or maturity. They should never give away something as valuable as their right to vote to an electoral college.

I agree, however, that at some point in time we will have to amend our Constitution, to allow Singaporeans of distinction to qualify as candidates.

Presently, our Constitution will not allow even a Nobel Prize winner nor a distinguished artist, musician or sportsperson to be our President. Why cannot people who have brought honour and glory to our country qualify?

Is it so critical that the President must have been a high official or someone who had run a company with a $100 million paid up capital or its equivalent to understand what his job is? Let’s not forget that handpicked Chief Executive Officers of multi-billion dollar public-listed companies have caused their companies to go bust.

Under Singapore’s current Constitution, a top-scientist like Abdul Kalam (former-President of India) will never become the Head of State. Why? Is it not possible for a President (who is let’s say a renowned novelist) to seek independent advice about his duties (concerning the reserves for instance) if he “see no ball”? Will no one help him if he should ask? Can he not get counsel from his Council of Presidential Advisors about what he is to do, if he is befuddled or feels pressured? If not, what are they there for?

If there is an amendment to the Constitution it should be with the purpose to give hope to young Singaporeans that one day they can be the President too.  If only they would excel in their chosen field or in their personal journey- if they earn the admiration of their fellow Singaporeans.  This will mean that the bar to be President will not be crossed by just a small group of people who come from similar backgrounds.

The General Elections and the Presidential Elections, which have been clean and fairly fought, have given many Singaporeans a taste of how leaders are chosen in a democracy.  In the past we elected David Marshall, a Jew, as Chief Minister. Singaporeans can in the future look forward to a person from a minority race becoming a elected President as we have less racial issues than almost any other nation that I know with such an eclectic mix of races.

If the United States with its deep racial divide can elect a President Obama there is no reason we cannot do the same.

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